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Managing Construction Projects in a Sustainment Brigade

Sustainment units generally are not familiar with the lengthy and complicated process
needed to obtain approval for a construction project in a theater like Afghanistan. While serving with the 43d Sustainment Brigade, the author developed a 20-step process to keep the paperwork flowing and projects on track.

The use of the joint facilities utilization board (JFUB) is a complex process that incorporates checks and balances designed to ensure that a unit's operational needs are met and fraud, waste, and abuse are prevented. The JFUB begins when a unit drafts a letter of justification that details the case for its request for a construction project and ends, ideally, when that unit receives a product that enhances its ability to conduct its mission. However, what most non-engineering units do not understand is the amount of time that this process takes.

The length of the JFUB process can be compounded in a country like Afghanistan, where demining of the building site may be necessary before construction can begin. One can therefore understand why it can take most of a deployment before a construction project can break ground. This long lead time validates the importance of a redeploying unit understanding an incoming replacement unit's operational needs so that minimal modifications have to be made by the incoming unit when it assumes authority and begins to use the new facility.

Spartan Field Kitchen
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 18,a Naval Reserve unit from Joint Base
Lewis-McChord, Washington, lay wooden flooring for the 43d Sustainment Brigade expeditionary tactical operations center at Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Having worked in the facilities realm as a staff engineer for what was then the 13th Corps Support Command at Fort Hood, Texas, and then for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, I understand the process of working with an installation department of public works within the continental United States. This process is simple: You submit a service order to repair existing facilities, or you submit a work order, which is like a letter of justification, proposing that a new facility be constructed.

However, what seems like a simple process at home somehow becomes convoluted when you are deployed, and even more so when you work in the combined and joint arena.

Deployment Construction and Demining
My second deployment was to Baghdad, Iraq, with the 62d Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), then a legacy horizontal and vertical construction battalion, from December 2005 to December 2006. While deployed, I was the executive officer for C Company, whose mission was to build 1 brigade, 2 battalion, and 16 company tactical operation centers and 10-bay Southwest Asia huts to house personnel at Forward Operating Base Kalsu. During this mission, I learned the intricacies of construction from the ground up.

My third deployment was to the Mine Action Center at Bagram, Afghanistan, from August 2007 to August 2008. As both the operations and executive officer, I managed the demining operations of a U.S. contract for mine clearance within military compounds as well as local national efforts for demining outside the compounds within all of Regional Command East. After this experience, I can now apply my knowledge of both the construction and demining aspects of getting a facility completed.

At the Mine Action Center, I had an additional role besides managing demining operations: I was a signatory to a checklist in Bagram that had to be signed before a unit could even propose its construction needs before the JFUB. What I was unaware of was the need to scrutinize the intricacies of letters of justification. I became familiar with those intricacies while serving as the 43d Sustainment Brigade engineer at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in Afghanistan.

Joint Facilities Utilization Board (JFUB)

According to Joint Publication 3–34, Joint Engineer Operations, a joint facilities utilization board is "a joint board that evaluates and reconciles component requests for real estate, use of existing facilities, inter-Service support, and construction to ensure compliance with Joint Civil-Military Engineering Board priorities."

Spartan Field Kitchen
A large area maintenance shelter–vehicle is built for the 43d Special Troops Battalion motor pool in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

An Engineer Working With Logisticians
The mission of the 43d Sustainment Brigade from March 2010 to March 2011 was to provide sustainment support to all U.S. Forces in Regional Commands South and West and to coalition forces within the scope of national agreements. In doing so, the brigade provided senior commands in Afghanistan with maximum flexibility to ensure successful operations throughout the Combined Joint Operations Area–Afghanistan in accordance with the commander of the International Security Force's campaign plan.

My mission as the brigade engineer was to provide route analysis of main supply routes and alternate supply routes, including the bridges, culverts, and roads associated with them, in order to maintain battlefield awareness and maneuverability of sustainment support. I also had to ensure that the brigade and its subordinate units had facilities to meet their operational needs so they could maximize their efficiency and effectiveness in support of their mission.

When a non-engineering logistics unit submitted its letter of justification to me, I relied on my operational experience to convey to other engineers the logistics terms and operations that I had learned and ensured that the justification was thoroughly and clearly explained. In essence, I became a translator, able to describe logistics functions not commonly known by all engineers and identify such acronyms as VHA (vehicle holding area), KTY (Kandahar transshipment yard), CRSP (central receiving and shipping point) yard, SSA (supply support activity), and MHE (materials-handling equipment). If these acronyms and functions had been misinterpreted by the engineers designing the project, the logisticians could have received a poorly functioning facility.

So I became a scrutinizer of integral details to ensure that each letter of justification was properly written to meet the needs of all units involved. Because available engineer resources were constrained by the need to support uplift operations, actually getting the letter of justification to the JFUB proved to be challenging.

Spartan Field Kitchen
A Southwest Asia hut is constructed by contractors to serve as a brigade headquarters in Regional Command South.

A Tracking Process for Letters of Justification
To mitigate confusion, I created a 20-step flowchart to simplify the process for tracking letters of justification within the two regional commands. This process began when a commander, a unit, or a unit staff requested construction support. The 20 steps proceeded as follows:

Step 1. Schedule a working group to assist in determining valid requirements.
Step 2. Write a letter of justification.
Step 3. Staff and identify any additional requirements.
Step 4. Correct the letter of justification for the brigade commander's approval and signature.
These first four steps were internal to the brigade and were the basic process that any unit would have in place for commander's signature submissions.
Step 5. Submit the letter of justification to the naval construction regiment. The location of the project determined which command (Regional Command West or Regional Command South) would provide an engineering operational needs statement (EONS).
However, if the project was to construct a facility at KAF, additional steps had to be completed before the submission could take place. The project first had to be presented to a council of colonels at the U.S. Base Camp Planning Board (BCPB). This board was held each Thursday at KAF. Once approved (and it could take multiple attempts to get approval from the BCPB), the project was presented to the COMKAF [Commander of KAF] Planning Board. This board was held each Wednesday at KAF. Following approval from both planning boards, the project received its EONS from U.S. Forces–Afghanistan (South).
Step 6. Post the EONS on a Microsoft Share-Point portal.
Step 7. Distribute the EONS to other agencies to coordinate and plan.
Step 8. The naval construction regiment conducted an internal board to determine the source of the labor for the construction: troop labor, contract labor obtained by the regional contracting command, or the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). This meeting was held every Friday.
Step 9. The Prime BEEF [Base Engineer Emergency Force] Squadron, a group of Air Force engineers who provided quality designs and blueprint drafts, assisted in conducting an initial site survey.
Step 10. The Prime BEEF Squadron conducted an initial design and reviewed the project with the customer to ensure that all of the requirements were captured within the design.
Step 11. Once the design was completed, the Prime BEEF Squadron created the JFUB packet to determine the cost of the project. The packet included the letter of justification, the EONS, the design, and the build-of-materials document created from the design. If the cost was over the $750,000 threshold, the customer had two options: either descope (reduce the size of) the project, or turn it into a military construction project. The latter required Congressional approval and about a 3-year wait before actual construction could begin. Naturally, units usually sacrificed building the ideal project to save time.
Step 12. Submit the JFUB packet to the appropriate regional command headquarters.
Step 13. The regional command headquarters conducted a legal and financial review of the packet for approval.
Step 14. Once approved, the packet was prioritized to go to the actual JFUB. Each regional command could submit 10 projects to the board each Saturday.
Step 15. The JFUB meeting was chaired by U.S. Forces–Afghanistan in Kabul. Decisions about projects were made there.
Step 16. The JFUB decision was posted on a SharePoint portal.
Step 17. A solicitation for a contractor was issued if the naval construction regiment determined that the project would be conducted through the regional contracting command or LOGCAP.
Step 18. The contract was awarded, and a notice to proceed was provided.
Step 19. Construction began.
Step 20. Ninety days before the estimated completion date of the project, coordinate with the customer, the financial manager, and the brigade S–4 to begin the joint acquisition review board process to furnish the facility.

Spartan Field Kitchen
A local-national truck dumps gravel in Afghanistan. Local national contracts awarded by the regional contracting command were one source of labor for construction projects.

The completion of demining, the availability of troop labor, or the need to use the regional contracting command or LOGCAP determined the amount of time it would take to begin construction. Based on the time of each step, this process could take a minimum of 3 to 9 months. And that is not accounting for the end of the fiscal year, when all projects came to a stop until the budget is approved. The end of the fiscal year could add another 4 to 5 months of delay. The timeframe for projects can be hard for non-engineers to conceptualize.

Establishing this complex engineering process in a forward sustainment brigade and synchronizing it with the Navy and Air Force engineering units in Afghanistan was based on the principle of building working relationships to facilitate support in accomplishing the overarching mission of the 43d Sustainment Brigade.

Construction support is simply a process of coordination among multiple agencies. It is a lesson in problem solving: identify the problem; gather information; develop criteria; generate, analyze, and compare possible solutions; and make and implement the decision. As I served as the brigade engineer, I found that the JFUB process is about educating others to manage expectations and becoming educated about the unit's operations and the JFUB process. Essentially, it is basic engineering.

Captain Derek E. Enslow is the commander of the 569th Engineer Company (Maneuver Augmentation), 4th Engineer Battalion, at Fort Carson, Colorado. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from the United States Military Academy and is a graduate of the Engineer Officer Basic Course.

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